SMITHFIELD – The Planning Board last week approved proposals for two solar projects on a combined 200 acres of property, one off Log Road and the other off DeCotis Farm Road and Douglas Pike.
The board approved a broad master plan for the Log Road proposal and preliminary plan for the Douglas Pike plan.
Joelle Rocha, attorney for applicant Daniel Coolong, reminded the board that the owner came before the board a year ago with a smaller solar project before a new solar ordinance was approved. The ground-mounted solar farm will be 10.7 megawatts and require no variances.
This initial conceptual review on a major land development proposal shows a 50-foot buffer between the project and nearby homes, and the applicant addressed neighbors’ concerns by saying he’ll present a full and detailed landscaping plan to show how he’ll make every effort to hid the panels from view.
A total of 46 acres of land will be cleared, or 38.8 percent of 119 acres, below the 40 percent maximum in the town’s zoning ordinance, said representatives for the applicant. Lot coverage will be 27.7 acres, or 19.2 percent, less than the 20 percent maximum allowable coverage. That includes all spaces between fixed panels.
The owner is expressing willingness to comply with a request to plant seedlings in other parts of town to replace the trees that come down. This has been certified as a forest in poor condition, with trees growing through stumps left behind due to previous clear-cutting. When trees grow that way, they get fungus inside of them and aren’t strong. Caterpillars have further weakened them.
Layout for tree plantings will be spelled out at a later point in the approval process.
Richard Levesque, of nearby 101 Tarkiln Road in Chepachet, said he’s in favor of the solar farm, saying he’d rather see that use with tax revenue and no liability than a housing development bringing traffic and more children into town. He said he enjoys the rural nature of the area, and hopes other neighbors agree with him that this type of development is best for the area.
Jeff Ayotte, of 524 Log Road, offered concern about the nearness of the project to his property. A previous version had it 300 feet away, he said, and now it’s just 50 feet from his property.
“There goes the country,” he said, asking for a larger buffer.
The applicant said he understands the issue and is promising “heavy buffering” for year-round screening of the project. Renderings will be offered up at the preliminary plan stage and the hope from the developer is that all neighbors will be happy with what they see.
Board members asked that if there’s a way to move the project further away from neighbors’ homes, that the applicant make every effort to do that.
Chris Rajotte, of 528 Log Road, also expressed opposition to the project, saying he moved here to be in the woods. He said he doesn’t believe he would have bought his house if he knew a solar farm would one day be coming in, and worries about devaluing of homes in the area.
He’s also concerned about chemical waste from a superfund site nearby as well as disruptive noise from the project.
Representatives for the applicant said the plume from the contaminated site is not going toward the area of the solar development and there will be no impact from noise. They’re also saying there shouldn’t be any decrease in home values.
The board approved a preliminary plan for a 3.33-megawatt solar farm off DeCotis Farm Road and Douglas Pike, the second to last step before development.
The project, planned to be sited on 48.3 acres of land, is expected to be nearly invisible, according to representatives for Fidelity Solar.
Brian Daigle, vice president of Fidelity Investments, said there’s a natural depression and a large berm that will block off much of the project, keeping it largely unnoticed and nestled in the trees.
Solar developer Amaresco is expected to have the project built by December.
According to the applicant, there’s a move afoot to potentially promote the bee population with an active bee colony within the solar project.
The board gave the nod to the preliminary plan subject to approval from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management.